Italian Opera: Verdi’s Falstaff is entertaining, yet sophisticated

Courtesy of the Portland Opera © Portland Opera / Cory Weaver
Courtesy of the Portland Opera © Portland Opera / Cory Weaver

I attended the Portland Opera performance of Falstaff this past weekendd and found it very enjoyable. I have to confess that I tend to prefer tragedies, but this opera by Verdi and the Portland Opera production of this great opera completely won me over. The sophistication of the wit matches that of Verdi’s music, making the opera not only entertaining in a comedic sense, but intellectually stimulating, which is no mean feat. An impeccable, virtuosic ensemble opera, Falstaff teems with tricks, twists and trysts, culminating in an evening where the music, action and comic momentum never stop.

During the question and answer session after the performance two of the performers shared their perspective as artists about this wonderful and less-often performed opera by Verdi. Surprisingly, we learned that the artists consider the comedic roles in an opera like Falstaff to more challenging to portray than the roles in tragedies. They also shared that the camaraderie on the stage that the audience witnessed was real, and was in part why this opera was entertaining from my perspective as an audience member. Their admiration for the musical acrobatics of Verdi’s score was also evident and quite infectious and helped me see what a true accomplishment it was for Verdi to write Falstaff, his last opera.

Courtesy of the Portland Opera © Portland Opera / Cory Weaver
Courtesy of the Portland Opera © Portland Opera / Cory Weaver

A little background on the opera:

Falstaff is an operatic commedia lirica in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi, adapted by Arrigo Boito from Shakespeare’s plays The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from Henry IV. The first performance of Falstaff took place on February 9, 1893 at La Scala, Milan to great success. Since then, it has continued to be performed internationally.

Sir John Falstaff attempts to woo two married women, hoping to improve his financial situation (and, as a bonus, his love life). Unfortunately, things don’t go quite as he planned: he’s thwarted by the merry wives of Windsor at every turn! But whether he’s berated by forest demons or thrown into the Thames, Falstaff retains his sense of humor — and his joie de vivre — to the very end!

Verdi wrote only two comedies and Falstaff was one of them. He wrote it when he was nearly 80 years old, but it is an extremely spirited, sensual and youthful work. Although Falstaff has not tended to be as popular as the other Verdi works such as Aida and Otello, it has remained a favorite with artists because of its brilliant orchestration, scintillating libretto and refined melodic invention. One example of the brilliant orchestration is the extraordinary finale, which is considered quite unique in opera. It is a fugue for the entire ensemble. I personally found that the complexity, rather than being overwhelming, was transformative and engaging. In the final scene Falstaff reminds us that “he who laughs last laughs best”. Here is a link on the Portland opera site with some music from the opera:

I suggest you listen to the fugue in the finale: "Tutto nel mondo è burla"

Perhaps the General Director of Portland Opera, Christopher Mattaliano summed up this opera best when he said this about it: “Artists love it…it is a bit of a miracle, such a gift to the world”.

Ci vediamo all’opera, Lina

rc: miim-blog-20130522-221

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